2016 Milwaukee Brewers: There’s a better way

On deck: Six years ago the Brewers traded Zack Greinke and built a championship team. Too bad it was in Kansas City. The Royals got a quarter of their lineup — shortstop Alcides Escobar and center fielder Lorenzo Cain — and pitcher Jake Odorizzi, who helped bring closer Wade Davis. The Brewers were left with a farm system whose talent base depreciated faster than statesmanship at a Republican debate. (The Brewers traded  Greinke 18 months later for shortstop Jean Segura and two minor league pitchers; it doesn’t take Donald Trump to declare that a trade deficit.)   Last summer the Brewers reversed course and GM Doug Melvin made his last major trade one of his best. The Brewers dealt temperamental but talented center fielder Carlos Gomez and pitcher Mike Fiers for four players, all of whom could help the Brewers. That in itself isn’t a high bar, but outfielders Domingo Santana (.857 career minor-league OPS) and Brett Phillips (.309/.374/.527, 17 steals at AA/AAA last year despite 120 strikeouts) could help better teams. Pitchers Josh Hader (3.03 ERA, 119  … strikeouts in 104 AA innings) and Adrian Houser (2.92 ERA, 5.3 strikeouts per walk in seven AA post-trade starts can better this one. If nothing else it’s more of a start than acquiring Greinke was. 

2015 stat: Khris Davis led the Brewers with 27 home runs in 2015,  and was rewarded with a trade to the Athletics. It was the fifth time a  Brewer led the team in home runs and started the next season as an ex-Brewer. The previous four were George Scott (hit a team-high 18 home runs in 1976 after an AL-best 36 in 1975, then was traded to Boston for Cecil Cooper); Rob Deer (hit 27 in 1990 with a team-low — for regulars — .209 average and left as a free agent for Detroit); Richie Sexson (hit 45 in 2003 but was sent to Arizona in a nine-player deal that brought Lyle Overbay and current manager Craig Counsell to the Brewers); and Prince Fielder (hit 38 in 2011 and left, like Deer, as a free agent for Detroit).

What he said:  First-year Brewers GM David Stearns: “… Every organization needs to be cognizant of where it is … and we’re no different.” What he meant: “I didn’t build this.”

Outlook: The 2016 Brewers won’t be very good, which is good for the Brewers because they’re not trying to be. They’ve been bad for most of the last 30-plus years despite trying not to be; in 2016 they can presumably be just as bad when they’re trying to be.

Stearns can say all he wants, as he has, that,  “The one thing I will combat is any insinuation that we’re not trying, or we don’t care about winning major-league games every single night. It is our primary obligation to our fan base to do everything we can to win a World Series.” It’s a nice sound bite,  but even he knows his comments are a misdirection when talking about 2016. 

That doesn’t mean Stearns isn’t entitled to reboot the team as he wishes. And the Brewers aren’t even the worst offenders, not as long as the Braves are around.

The Brewers will lose 95 games in 2016, or more, but will any Brewers fan be indignant after the team lost 94 last season? They haven’t seen much else.

 In the 33 seasons since the Brewers made their only World Series appearance, they’ve had just 10 winning seasons — and four of those by just four games or fewer. That’s a .300 average,  which might be good for a No. 3 hitter, but not for a franchise.

The 33 years include an 0-for-15 skien — Brewers fans see those pretty regularly — two playoff appearances, both brief, one division title, four 90-win seasons and eight 90-loss seasons, including the 106 in 2002 which brought in Melvin.

Since July 1, 2014, when the Brewers were 17 games over .500 and six-and-half games in front, they’re 99-140 and have fallen 46-and-half games off the pace. If the Brewers are tanking in 2016, how will their fans tell the difference?

More than 2.5 million watched the Brewers lose 94 games last year, which makes you wonder what the allure is? There must be more to those between-innings sausage races. The Brewers haven’t drawn fewer than two-and-a-half million fans in a decade, so if Stearns wants to sell high and draft high, he’s entitled to change course.

Stearns dealt Davis and Adam Lind, who were first and third on the team in home runs last year, and who can blame him. They didn’t hit that many, and no one could possibly have hit enough.

In dealing Davis, the Brewers acquired catcher Jacob Nottingham (.505 slugging percentage, 38% of base stealers thrown out, not yet 21), who may allow Stearns to yet move starter Jonathan Lucroy. In dealing Lind, he acquired two more pitchers, like Hader and Houser, who accumulate strikeouts and deign bases on balls. And in moving Segura, the Brewers added Isan Diaz, a 19-year-old middle infielder who slugged .640 in a rookie league last season. If Orlando Arcia doesn’t improve the Brewers at shortstop, Diaz will.

The Brewers’ farm system is greatly revitalized, even if it has depended on the kindness of strangers.  If the Brewers have to sacrifice a season to impress intimates, those closest can sharpen their generous nature, too.

 Team Song: Cream: Strange Brew

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